In today’s New York Times, blogger Floyd Norris suggests that universal health care reform would reduce military recruitment rates by undermining the military’s generous health benefit incentive:
A significant factor for many recruits, it turns out, is the military’s generous health benefits for dependants…It seems a bit perverse that the incentives for a young person with children to join are greater than the incentives for his childless friend. But that is the way it is. All that could change if the push for some kind of national health insurance program were to be successful.
The notion that Americans should be deprived of health insurance for national security purposes is both perverse and illogical. In fact, Norris’ implication, which suggests that the government must maintain a disparity between civilian and military entitlements, overstates the financial benefit of enlisting and contradicts the needs of the military.
Few Americans cash-in from their military service. “The Department of Defense estimates that its employees take a $20,000-per-year pay-and-benefits hit relative to civilians the same age throughout their careers.” Moreover, according to Christopher Jehn, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for force management and personnel, soldiers who are forced into service weaken the military’s capabilities.
Second, because service members are all volunteers, the military has far fewer discipline problems, greater experience (because of less turnover) and thus, more capability. Based on this experience, U.S. military leaders today are thoroughly convinced that a return to the draft could only weaken the armed forces. This is why, when students at the Naval Postgraduate School (mainly U.S. military officers), are asked whether they would like to return to the draft, there are few takers. As one put it, “Why would I want to be in charge of people who don’t want to be there?”
The burden of serving in the army should also be shared by all Americans, not just by the poor or the uninsured. Unfortunately, the underprivileged are already over-represented in the armed forces. While the Defense Department does not track how much recruits earn before they enlist, a study by the non partisan National Priorities Project “that compares home ZIP codes of new recruits to tax return data for those areas” found that “neighborhoods with low- to middle-median household incomes are over-represented,” while areas “with high-median household incomes are under-represented.”
Americans who lack health insurance should not be forced to join the military in order to obtain it. If a government must deny its citizens benefits to entice recruits to war, perhaps that war is not worth fighting.